Pam Oliver, Live TV, and the Quest for Hair That is LAYED

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As  a Black woman who has worked on-air, I  can empathize with  Pam Oliver, the veteran sportscaster whose questionable hair has garnered more attention this past season than her award-winning reporting.

During my stint in Florida, I put a great deal of effort into my appearance. That was, in part, a measure of my own vanity, but mostly because I understood that impeccable grooming was  a job requirement. I spent entirely too much of my salary  on morning-TV-friendly, Skittle-colored dresses. I applied my pancake make-up with care, went for regular facials, threadings, manicures and I tried my hardest to stay away from Publix fried chicken (there has to be crack in the batter).  But with natural hair (and a sew-in weave), it was damn near impossible to hit the mark five days a week.

Here’s what most people don’t get about live tv;  it isn’t nearly as easy as it looks.

We refer to a “live shot” as reporting from “the field” because it can be a jungle out there. While television studios are climate controlled with teleprompters and  heavenly lighting, in “the field”, it’s just you, a photographer, and the elements; the wind, the rain, the sleet, the snow, and the humidity that will inevitably defer a Black woman’s dream for  hair that is “layed”.

No matter how often I pulled the scorching teeth of a hot comb through my recalcitrant locks, no matter how much I sprayed, prayed, and anointed my scalp in pomade… my edges betrayed me almost every single time.

And the Black viewers were unforgiving. It didn’t matter if I nailed an interview, or opened my story with some witty alliterative phrase. It didn’t matter if I did a somersault off a 10 foot diving board and landed without a splash.  If my hair wasn’t Pocahontas straight, baby hairs slick as Ginuwine’s during during the “Pony” era, I heard about it. Black female viewers  sent emails. They wrote about me on social media. Some women even phoned my hair stylist who’d then call me and demand I stop by for a visit.

I have to be honest. The indictment against my hair was infuriating. Here I was dealing with the everyday stress that comes with being a  young Black female in an industry that still struggles with diversity, and I was being derided by a portion of very community I looked to for support. (Sidenote: after about a year and a half, I managed to get it together)

This past February, the  backlash against Pam Oliver’s hairstyle brought back those uncomfortable memories,  but it  also helped me put that entire experience in perspective. I’ll never completely understand the double standard to which Black women must adhere, or the premium placed on immaculately processed Black hair, but I have come to terms with the fact that no level of accomplishment shields a Black woman from critique on how she styles her hair.

Still, I can’t cosign.

When Pam is on the sidelines, I’m watching the most high-profile Black woman in sports.

I see a woman who, in the midst of the testosterone fueled chaos of nationally televised football game, is grace under fire. A woman who knows the sport inside and out and always poses the right question at the right moment. A woman who landed her position at Fox in 1995, and has held onto it for nearly twenty years, a rare feat for anyone in this ruthless industry, let alone a Black woman in a field dominated by former pros, White male commentators, and young, attractive blonds. A woman who is actually 53, but doesn’t look a day over 35.

That’s what I see.

Others see hair.

All too often, it seems like Black edges matter more than Black excellence. Like any shining moment in the annals of Black history can be ruined by an unkempt pony tail or an unruly wig. We’ve seen distinguished public figures like Michelle Obama and Condoleeza Rice ripped to shreds over their hairstyle. No public figure is too esteemed or too young to escape this internal hair policing. Not 16-year old Gabrielle Douglas. Not 2-year-old Blue Ivy.

Maybe Pam’s detractors will breathe sigh of relief now. After 19 years as Fox Sports lead sideline reporter, she is being replaced by the younger, blonder, Erin Andrews. Moving forward, Fox execs would like Oliver to focus on long-form pieces, big interviews, and production.

It’s a demotion.

I won’t harp on the network’s decision, nor will I contemplate the role, if any, that Black Twitter played in all of this. I just hope that in her absence we can finally do the one thing we failed to do during her 19 years on the field,  and that is acknowledge that she was in fact there. And crooked wigs and challenged weaves aside, that alone is epic.

-Ayesha

 

PS: Pam was killin’ em back in the day.

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